Asia: The game has changed

THE 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Forum, which Beijing hosted for the first time, could not have been timed better for China and Russia.

Forget about all the news releases, communiqués and joint statements. This was like a wedding banquet, with the “grooms”—China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin—reminding the United States and Barack Obama of how being an ex-boyfriend feels like.

The Chinese media, both traditional and social, wasted no effort in criticizing Obama at almost every chance they got. Obama refused to use the official Chinese government limousine provided to all the nation’s leaders, and when he arrived at the first official function, he was chewing gum. “We made this meeting so luxurious, with singing and dancing, but see Obama, stepping out of his car, chewing gum like an idler,” wrote Yin Hong, a professor of journalism at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

For one of the first official photographs of all the attendees, President Aquino was in front, next to Putin (who was standing next to Xi), while Obama was to the far left, in what is traditionally known as the “Wives’ Club” area. How times have changed.

While the US is trying to push its Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), China was promoting its proposed Free-Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, which includes China and Russia. The TPP leaves both those nations out. Furthermore, Australia and South Korea signed free-trade agreements with the Chinese. The US and China agreed to drop tariffs on about 200 different technologies, including semiconductors, medical-technology equipment and global-positioning system devices. China can now import US technology, instead of “borrowing” it. In return, all those Chinese-branded gadgets just got cheaper for American consumers to buy.

During their initial meeting, both Xi and Japan’s Shinzō Abe looked like they had some bad dim sum for lunch. But this was probably more for their respective country’s media than a true representation of what went on behind the scenes.

Beijing and Tokyo do have problems stemming from their territorial dispute, but the economic ties are probably more important.

President Aquino’s conversation with Xi was described by the US media as this: “The Philippines became America’s second Pacific ally in as many days to hold ice-breaking talks with formerly frosty China.” While the Philippines must hold on to its territorial claims, it must also realize that to depend on the US is to be shut out of Asian development. It is important for President Aquino to build on this trip to Beijing.

By the end of the summit, China and Russia “won” Apec, and the score was not even close. The game has changed in Asia. Perhaps, the US will now come to realize that fact after this summit.